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  • Marshall Islands
  • David W. Kupferman (bio)

Marshall Islands

The period under review for the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) has been one of unprecedented events, including the removal of a president and a potential constitutional crisis, the unsatisfactory resolution of numerous issues related to the Compact of Free Association with the United States, a variety of health issues and diplomatic forays that thrust the islands into the global spotlight, and a pair of international incidents that have painted the nation in an unfavorable light in the eyes of the world press.

By far the most important event of the last twelve months was the stunning and historic vote of no confidence that ousted President and Iroij Litokwa Tomeing in October 2009. While Tomeing had survived two previous attempts to drive him out of office in October 2008 and April and seemed to have solidified his administration's legitimacy during the summer recess, tensions were high even before the regular session of the Nitijela (Parliament) convened in August. The Marshall Islands Journal reported prior to the meeting of the Nitijela that a motion of no confidence was planned but that there were no specifics as to what lay behind such an initiative, nor was information given about whether anyone in either political party was preparing to step in should the vote succeed (MIJ, 21 Aug 2009). Indeed, the rumors surrounding the proposed vote were so vague that the only compelling aspect of such a possibility was that the vote was being considered by a coalition of leaders from both the United Democratic Party (UDP) and Aelon Kein Ad (AKA); the prospects for this third vote of no-confidence against Tomeing in the first eighteen months of his administration (and only the fifth such vote in the nation's history) seemed to rest entirely on a blurring of political party ideology and a desire simply to remove him from office.

As the Nitijela met through its regular sixty-day session, it seemed that the government's priority was the resolution of the land use agreement between the RMI government and Kwajalein landowners, the most prominent of whom is former President and Iroijlaplap Imata Kabua. While Kabua had been instrumental in Tomeing's rise to the presidency in 2008, continuing frustration over the lack of a land use agreement took center stage. In a letter to the editor of the Marshall Islands Journal, Kabua complained that his rights as a landowner had been stripped by the RMI government's [End Page 184] "refusal" to consult with the Kwajalein landowners during the renegotiation of the Compact of Free Association with the United States in 2003 (MIJ, 14 Aug 2009). Ironically, the president at the time, UDP party leader and Jabat Senator Kessai Note, had come to power by toppling Kabua in 1999 and had in turn been ousted by Tomeing (with Kabua's assistance) in 2007. But lack of movement on the land use agreement, even after the president and members of his cabinet met with Kwajalein landowners in September (MIJ, 18 Sept 2009), and compounded by the bad feelings left over from the most recent vote of no confidence led by Tomeing's own party in April 2009, seemed to render party politics irrelevant and made the Tomeing administration appear incapable of moving forward on this or any issue.

After weeks of speculation, the motion of no confidence was finally put on the Nitijela agenda on Wednesday, 13 October 2009. The motion was filed by former President and Jabat Senator Kessai Note, along with AKA members Namu Senator Kaibuke Kabua and Lae Senator Rellong Lemari, and Ujae Senator Frederick Muller of the United People's Party (or UPP, which represented President Tomeing's short-lived attempt at coalition politics) (MIJ, 16 Oct 2009). On 21 October 2009, Litokwa Tomeing became the first president in the history of the republic to be ousted by a no-confidence motion, by a vote of 17 to 15 (only Arno Senator Gerald Zackios did not participate in the vote) (MIJ, 23 Oct 2009). The bickering two days prior to the vote, as well as a marathon three-and-a-half-hour debate right before the vote...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 184-190
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-26
Open Access
No
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